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As soon as she regained enough strength to drive a car again, Crystal King’s first stop was Best Buy.
She was shopping for a high-quality camera.
It was 2017, and King had just spent two months in the hospital.
The birth of her son Avery sent her into kidney failure, and after fighting to live, she wanted to use her second chance to create as many memories with her child as life granted.
“I don’t know anybody who is just lollygagging and wasting time after something like that,” King told Hey, Black Mom! “I was afraid I wouldn’t be alive for Avery. My main mission was to document our lives together. I wanted him to be able to look back when he’s 18, if I’m not here, and see that there’s proof that his mom was here and she did love him.
“She did all these things with you and all these things for you.”
And document King did.
Her popular Instagram page, justthekings, is full of lively photos of her and Avery, who is now 2, living their best lives. One day they’re at the Georgia Aquarium, another they’re at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
King, 39, doesn’t want to waste any moments.
King said she’s now living with 10 percent kidney function and will soon be bound to dialysis if she doesn’t find a donor. Dialysis, which performs the function of a kidney, would greatly limit her physical activity (she wouldn’t be able to swim with Avery anymore, for example, and they’re big fans of Florida beaches). The average life expectancy on dialysis is five to 10 years, according to kidney.org. Some patients have lived up to 30 years.
King, who lives in Atlanta, was diagnosed with kidney disease when she was 15; she woke up with a severely swollen face and spent days in the hospital as doctors searched for answers. It wasn’t until she was 18 that she had another incident as a result of the disease. She lived a somewhat normal life until the birth of her son.
She understands her chronic illness better than anyone. She knows kidney failure could one day end her life. She knew the risks of having Avery, but he’s the reason King is fighting.
“Avery is literally my motivation,” she said. “You cannot cure kidney disease. I know this thing is going to take me out one day. I don’t know if that is this year, next year or five years from now. I know that I have to be with my son, and so I’m doing everything we can do in a day.”
The dedication of motherhood
Being a mother living with a chronic illness has changed King. She never thought she’d enjoy staying home with a baby, but she wouldn’t change it for the world. She recently celebrated her 39th birthday by simply doing what her son wanted. And motivational clichés — those never carried much weight to her.
“You know those quotes that we hear all the time ‘live every day like it’s your last day’ and such?” she said. “Until I was in kidney failure and in the hospital for two months, those words meant nothing to me. Now that I can walk, talk, drive a car and do things, I’ve realized, ‘Yes, we need to live every day like it’s our last, truly, and document the heck out it so that there is witness that I was here, witness that I was a good mom and witness that me and Avery had a really good time together.’
“I do all of this for Avery.”
King was put on bedrest when she was six months pregnant. The journey was more difficult than she expected, and she delivered Avery prematurely at seven months. Then, her marriage ended; her ex-husband had divorce papers served to her without so much as a conversation about it. Next, she lost her job as an art director after her position was eliminated.
“I was in total shock — and on my deathbed,” she said.
Single mom, going through a nasty divorce, jobless, and in kidney failure. I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know anyone who could’ve dealt with all of this at the same time. I know people who lose their minds over having a headache.Crystal King
But she had to fight to remain mentally sound, as a transplant works both ways. The candidate must be in good mental health, too, in order to qualify, she said.
Though having kidney disease is a great strain on her body and energy by itself, she still forces herself out of the bed each day to make memories with Avery.
Last year, King said doctors told her she would have six months left with her kidneys. It’s been nine.
She continues to be diligent about finding a donor and using her platform to inform others about kidney disease. She’s awaiting labs and is likely one step closer to dialysis being a reality.
When thumbing through her Instagram pictures, King appears so positive, accepting and full of life. As difficult as living in kidney failure has been, her baby boy, who still even relies on her to go to sleep every night, keeps her going.
“I do all of this to create memories and for Avery to look back on, but hopefully I’ll be able alive to explain our story to him,” King said. “If someone told you your organs were going to shut down in six months or nine months, what would you be doing differently? I am a living example of my answer. What you see on my stories and what you see on my timeline are what I have chosen to do with my remaining time.
“I’m getting out and living life to the fullest.”